One of the questions often asked by beginning
fly fishermen, is "how does one decide which flies
to tie and when to fish them?" Newcomers to the sport
often seem confused by the sheer volume of fly patterns
Each generation of fly tyers develop new patterns,
and re-invent the old standards. Rarely is a pattern
so solid in design it is immune to change. When the
parachutes came on line, almost every standard dry
fly was tied with the new "hackle post" design. The
Swisher-Richards no-hackles changed a lot of minds
on what type of dry flies we should fish in our spring
creeks and slower moving freestone rivers.
Wet flies, nymphs, and streamers have undergone similar
changes over the years. New nymph dubbing materials, new
crystal chenilles, swisstraw, bead heads, and hundreds
of other new types of materials have allowed us to
develop a new age group of sub-surface flies.
If all of the flies listed in the 50 or 60 pattern books
in my modest library (many of which were published in the
past 30 or so years) were laid end to end, they would
probably reach halfway to Christmas Island.
We don't need to tie all of the patterns in these books
to be successful. Before I begin to fish a trout lake
I haven't fished recently, I go to my fishing journals
and determine which flies worked the last time I fished
the area. I compare, among other things, the time of
year, water temperatures, moon phases and insect hatches.
It is very important that I compare apples to apples
(time of year and water temperatures being the most
If it is a new fishery, I use any one of a dozen or so
fly patterns I have the most confidence in at the time
(I refer to this sub-surface assortment as my Deadly
Dozen). The wet flies I use most often fall into several
distinct categories. One group of stillwater patterns
I often fish, for example, employees a gold and dark
olive variegated chenille as the body material. Among
these patterns are the Taylor Shrimp, Marv's Fly, Blonde
Stayner, and Light Olive Sheep Creek Special.
There is another material that I use quite often, which
is almost as effective as the gold and dark-olive chenille.
It is Chinese pheasant rooster-tail fibers. Oregonian
Jim Teeny has made a career out of a fly pattern called
the Teeny Nymph. The only ingredient in Teeny's pattern
is rooster-tail fibers from the Chinese pheasant. While
Jim does now dye his feathers a wide range of colors, it
was the natural pheasant-tail fibers that built his career.
One of my most successful fly patterns has been my
Pheasant-tail Damsel. The tail and abdomen are Chinese
pheasant-tail fibers, and the thorax is the above
mentioned gold and dark-olive variegated chenille (I
combine ingredients used in other "hot" patterns whenever
possible). I use brownish-olive swisstraw for the
wing-case, and brown saddle hackle for the legs.
Successful patterns can often be improved by adding new
materials that have been developed since the pattern came
on line. George Biggs' Sheep Creek Special, one of the
great stillwater patterns that originated in my home
state of Idaho, is a good example of a fly pattern
that can be improved by keeping the original design
the same, but using different materials.
On my last trip to eastern Oregon's Malheur Reservoir,
for example, I caught most of my trout with a Canadian
Brown Sheep Creek. The tail was the original brown
hackle, and the wing the original mallard flank fibers
(dyed woodduck). The body was the legendary Canadian
Brown Mohair material wound on and picked out. Over
the years the pattern has also been extremely successful
at Idaho's Henry's lake.
I've also dressed the Sheep Creek with a black, gold
and dark-olive, brown and olive, burnt orange and black
(halloween), and black and tan variegated chenille bodies.
The pattern is also effective with a pheasant-tail fiber body.
One can take this "substitution technique" a step further.
By using the new Super Chenille - a mixture of tinsel
chenille and rayon chenille - the tyer can develop an
entire new line of "Superbuggers." The tyer can also
combine the Sheep Creek and Tex Favorite designs with
the new Super Chenille and develop an entire new
generation of trout flies (now I'm really confusing
While there will always be new materials coming on line,
the smart fly tyer will keep in mind the designs of the
old standbys. The Sheep Creek Special, for example, has
been such a successful pattern, that the tyer should
never completely abandon the original materials. Changing
to new materials may broaden the patterns appeal, but
one should never forget what got him to the dance
in the first place.
Another old standby that can be improved with new
materials is the Stayner Ducktaill. Some tiers are
now replacing the orange hackled fiber tail and
beard with orange Chrystal Hair (or other similar
materials). Some years ago I developed a "Blonde Stayner"
by changing the dark-olive chenille body to the yellow
and dark-olive variegated chenille (mentioned above),
and the natural flank feather to a woodduck dyed
mallard feather. I believe my variation is more
effective than the original when yellow perch, brown
suckers, or chubs are present in a lake.
I'm sure there are other new materials that might "improve"
the original Stayner. Pearl and Ice Chenille are two new
materials that come to mind.
Now that I'm on record in favor of experimenting with
new materials in old patterns, I want to reinforce the
theory that "presentation" will always be more important
than "pattern." Combining new materials and old designs
might catch more fish...and it might not. It is still
up to the angler to present his flies to fish in an
appealing manner. Understanding where to cast our flies
is even more important than what we are using. The
"wrong" fly fished where the fish "are," might catch
fish. The "right" fly fished where the fish "are not,"
hasn't got a prayer.
So...I'll tell the beginners: If they don't have a buddy
to set you straight, buy a couple of good stillwater
pattern books, read what the so-called experts have to
say, and design a game plan. Besides the obligatory
woolly buggers and other leech patterns, have wet flies
that suggest damsel and dragonfly nymphs, mayfly nymphs,
caddis and midge pupas, scuds, backswimmers, and forage
If the beginner is still confused, he should put all
of his flies in his fishing hat, close his eyes, and
draw one out.
I won't admit I've ever done that. But then there are
a lot of things I won't admit having done. ~ Marv
Marv Taylor's books, Float-Tubing The West,
The Successful Angler's Journal,
More Fragments of the Puzzle, (Volume I) and More
Fragments of the Puzzle, (Volume II) are all available from
Marv. You can reach Marv by email at
firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: 208-322-5760.